Has Web Analytics Jumped The Shark?

One morning in San Francisco last week, the happy-time morning folks on one of the TV networks interviewed the whole original cast of Happy Days. Howard Cunningham, Ralph Malph, Fonzie – all of them who aren’t now as rich as Ron Howard.

One question the penetrating journalist just had to ask was about the phrase ‘jumping the shark’. Fonzie and Gary Marshall were quick to point out that the show was #1 for two years after that episode.

I guess they wanted to make it clear that they don’t even understand what ‘jumping the shark‘ means.

But later that day, after the 2nd day of the XChange analytics conference, where many of the WA Gurus and a lot of very prominent Analytics customers gathered to discuss their marketplace, it hit me:

I think high end of web analytics might have jumped the shark too. The money may flow for a while longer, but there are some real problems which may be irreparable.

What I Heard At XChange

With a unique conference format – all sessions except for a brief opening event are round-table discussions between 10-20 attendees – XChange is the perfect place to find out what’s really happening. Everybody gets their say, not just a few selected presenters.

And what they’re clearly expressing is frustration. The world’s most prominent web analytics thinkers and professionals seem to have five issues:

  • Data Collection – Analytics can only work if the right data is collected. Yet site tagging is hugely problematic because IT depts are slow and inflexible. Managing web analytics in this environment is like driving a race car where use of the gas and breaks requires a ‘request submission form’ that someone else will consider and implement, fully or partially, at some time of their choosing. You slam into a lot of walls this way. Of course, if you do get the site tagged, the circus that is cookies pretty much obliterates the data integrity anyway. Saying it’s the trends not the numbers only goes so far.
  • Data Integration – Even if website-based tracking was perfect, the world is no longer website based. From social media to multi-channel to Flash, Flex, Ajax, Video, and Mobile, web analytics is a guard dog with a 10 mile territory and a 100-ft chain tied around its’ neck. That’s a lot of ground not covered.
  • Core Capabilities – Supposed you had all the data you dream of – then you could analyze it as you wished right? Maybe not. There were no ‘I Love My Vendor’ buttons at this show – in fact the session on ‘When and How to Change Vendors’ confirmed only that the top analytics vendors have a lot in common with the airlines – everybody hates the one they use the most. The most common story was of executives wanting the cool reports and features they understood to be promised in the sales demos, and the analytics professionals having a hard time explaining why that was completely impossible.
  • Competitive Environment – The party line at XChange was a professed distain for Google Analytics because it’s ‘limited and inflexible’, but they aren’t pleased with the growing lack of alternatives at the high end. Several still going concerns are assumed to be the walking dead, and the remaining green giant has a surprising lack of goodwill that would lead you to believe Microsoft had already bought them.
  • Damn Customers – This is where the real trouble lies. Because of the issues listed above, analytics folks haven’t been able to educate or satisfy their customers – the managers, marketers, partners, and technical staff that need to consume the information and insights web analytics are supposed to produce. The stories clearly reveal users who want things they can’t have, don’t understand the things they get, ask for things they don’t need, don’t use the things they’re given, and remain therefore un-enlightened as to the behaviour and performance of their online assets. This is making it very hard for the analysts to tell them that what they really need is more time, more staff, and more money for new tools.

Is there success and satisfaction out there? Yes.

The most advanced of the practitioners are doing wonderful things. The smartest of them have generated huge wins from the tools they have. There are anticdotes aplenty. It’s not impossible.

But it’s not easy. Even those with clear wins aren’t living on easy street. Those without them seem nearly defeated. The barriors are just too high and too hard. The few wins are not worth the enormous costs.

It seems like high end Web Analytics is the new CRM, where companies used to spend hundreds of thousand, or even millions of dollars, only to find their sales staff secretly using ASK on their laptops.

What I Think It Means

And that’s the thought that got me. The high-end packages can out-perform Google Analytics in just about every way you can think of or discuss, except in the ease with which basic data and analysis is delivered.

Which leads to a paradox; the high end package can out perform Google Analytics only if they can be fully and properly configured, solve some very serious data integration problems, actually do most or all of what they promise, and become accessible to a very diverse set of end clients. But they’re failing at these four tasks which leaves most end-users getting only very simple reporting out of very complicated and expensive packages.

Wouldn’t they be better off just getting these simple reports from a simple and cheap (even free) package?


I wish it weren’t true. I want the full promise of the high end. And it takes a lot to convince me that something possible is impractical.

But if the collective status of the smartest and best resourced analytics users is as it appeared at XChange, I think I just saw The Fonz water skiing in a leather jacket.



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